My brother-in-law's wedding in Singapore in October 2005 provided the perfect excuse for us to take another holiday in Europe. After all, what is Singapore but a convenient transit stop? So we booked our economy tickets almost a year in advance, taking advantage of a cheap deal spotted at a travel expo. Our routing was to be Sydney to Singapore with Qantas, Singapore to London with British Airways, Paris to London connecting with a flight to Narita, again with BA, then QF back to Sydney.
Our flight (QF5 I think) departed late in the afternoon. The day was spent hurriedly trying to setup my new Zaurus C3100 just received from Japan. It was to be my link with the rest of the world during our trip. We only had one bag of checked in luggage between the two of us. The plan was to travel light through Singapore, Spain and France and then buy another bag for our purchases on the final legs.
It was a grey and overcast day as we boarded the Qantas 747-400 late in the afternoon. You really feel set for a big journey in a jumbo jet, unlike its smaller cousins. We took off and soon disappeared into the clouds above Sydney, denying us a last view of the city.
Fortunately, the clouds soon broke and we had views of western New South Wales, including the open cut mine below.
One and a half hours into our flight and we were somewhere over Central Australia. I couldn't say exactly where because the inflight entertainment system had broken down and there was no moving map. It was only a minor disappointment for me; there were some good movies on, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, the texture of the land outside was such that it made for far more interesting viewing. Dry floodplains carved by creek beds, barely any vegetation in sight. Often no sign of human inhabitants, if any exists. Now and then a bare line ran straight across the land, cleaving dry salt edged lake beds and rippled dunes in two, evidence that people occasionally crossed through this barren country. It's beautiful country from the air, more so when viewed in the late afternoon light.
To the views above I listened to Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack to "The Sum of All Fears". The IFE was soon repaired and I ended up watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Loved the song and dance routine with the made Indian Oompaloompa, but the story was too familiar and predictable after the book and original movie version.
Dinner was reasonable, tasty beef stew, though not up to our home standards. I would rather a normal dessert be served and the mini Magnum ice cream be left for later in the flight. Naturally things started getting a little bumpier as soon as serving began (well, that's my perception). The captain actually put on the seatbelts sign as we skirted storms. I saw one flash of lightning and watched as the red Sun sunk beneath the clouds.
Beyond the halfway point, the remains of the day was a thin band on the horizon ranging in colour from burnt umber to a misty yellow-green. Below, the land was black, but for thin bands of bushfire flame. There wass not much left of the Australian continent and we were soon above the Timor Sea.
With two hours left in the flight we were above Indonesia and the cabin lights were switched back on. I felt like I had a real technology hub thing going on in my seat. I was mostly ignoring the IFE LCD screen at the back of the seat in front of me. The earphones for that were lying on my lap. One digital camera was sitting in the seat pocket, ready for aerial snaps. The MP3 player was hanging around my neck, but I was listening to music on my Zaurus SL-5500 while typing this on the Zaurus C3100. Pity that there was no internet access. I couldn't wait for the internet access promised in the QF A380's.
As we descended into Singapore lines of lights were visible in the ocean as cargo ships waited to dock. The city lights were as fascinating to me as always, the life of people as ants below. We circled over the island the touched down on to the tarmac. It had been an excellent, comfortable flight, enjoyable in the full.
One nice feature of a tropical country with no agriculture is that there is no need of quarantine so we were out of the terminal pretty quickly and down to the MRT (suburban train system) station. There we encountered Sanctimonious Singapore.
We must have looked a little lost as we tried to work out which ticket we would need. The other passenger, a young guy with a female partner, came over to us and offered his assistance. That was great, but then he proceeded to lecture us at length about how great the MRT is, how to navigate the network, how safe Singapore is, all the way until we changed trains at Tanah Merah. I tried to tell him that, hey, I spend at least 3 hours a day on trains on a Sydney work day and that we have navigated far more complex networks in Paris and Tokyo, without speaking the local language. But of course he wouldn't listen. I think most Singaporeans are taught from birth that they are much smarter than anyone else in the region and therefor have the right to lecture. I won't go into the subject of kiasu here...
Anway, we made it successfully to the Allson Hotel on Victoria Road. After dumping our bags in the room the first thing we did was to go out again to the adjacent night market and dine on mee siam and radish cake. Forget the dinner on the plane, the whole point of visiting the region is to eat!
The next day we crossed over into Johor Bahru in Malaysia to renew my wife's Identity Card (IC). She was pulled over at the border by immigration for possessing an older, non-chip passport. She had her Australian residency visa and Japanese visa in it and we were scheduled to leave in three days, but they wanted to cancel it, saying that she should go to Kuala Lumpur to get the visas "it should only take a week or so". Eventually she convinced them not to cancel, saying that she would go straight to the passport office next to the IC office and replace the passport. Of course we did nothing of the sort. They didn't bother her on the way out thankfully.
The first time I visited Johor Bahru was after arriving in Singapore on my first trip outside of Australia. I was shocked by the decrepitude and smell in comparison with modern Singapore. JB has been cleaned up a bit since then, but still retains an earthy realism missing from its neighbour. We spent the day wandering around the city, eating lunch out of paper and bamboo baskets in an open cafe run by old Chinese women, admiring the Hindu temple and buying melon chocolate sweets from a Muslim stall.
The rest of our stay in Singapore involved wandering around the city, eating (I devoured a shared chili crab, 18 satay sticks and three cups of lime juice on the second night) and shopping. Oh, and that wedding. We preferred the colour and grime of Little India, in the throws of the Deepavali Festival to the boring sterility of Chinatown. A handy hint when eating too: the longer the queue the worse the meal. Go for the small stalls in the big food courts, your tastebuds won't regret it!
B's mum arrived at around 3am on the late QF flight from Sydney, straight from work. The airport arrivals lounge was near deserted at that early hour but for a group of students seated and studying at the Delifrance cafe. It was a Saturday morning! No wonder the local cultural scene is so awful, the youth have no time to experience it. But judging from the performance of some Singaporeans in Australia I get the feeling that they may work longer hours but don't necessarily get as much work done or work as efficiently. Sorry for the criticism, but I couldn't help but feel that, despite the economic performance of Singapore, the country is pretty screwed up in the head.
One the way back to the hotel we noticed that the Victoria Street food court was busier at 4am than during the day!
Whatever my criticisms of Singapore, they sure do run a great airport. After seeing B's Mum off to the airport (our formal clothes in her luggage) we ate dinner with other relatives in the service food court where little stalls served local food mainly to airport employees. We were then through immigration and on our own (at last! No more Aunt-From-Hell). While B relaxed in one of the "beds" facing the windows I was off grabbing more and more kueh lapis cake from Bengawan Solo. Addictive stuff! I also made use of the free internet LAN connections to catch up on the cricket scores and other news.
Then it was time to board the our British Airways flight to London. To be continued in Part 2...
In the meantime you may also like to read my other trip reports:
Let's Fly Jetstar Part2 Redux: KIX-SYD A332 (pics)
Let's Fly Jetstar: SYD-KIX A330-200 (pics)
QF And AO: SYD-CNS-KIX, NRT-SYD On 767's (pics)
Just A Day Trip: QF: SYD - CBR
How Many Airlines? Adventures In China (pics)
SYD-ICN-AMS: Asiana, KLM Y Class In 2004 (pics)
Honeymoon In Paris: Flying QF1 Y Class In 2001